Sai Island


The largest permanent island along the course of the Nile. It is about 6 miles (10 km) long and 3 miles (5 km) wide, and is situated in northern Sudan a short distance downstream from the Third Cataract. A large, brick-walled fortress was built on the eastern of the island in the Eighteenth Dynasty, and the place was intermittently important as a religious and administrative center in many subsequent ages.

Its name appears as in medieval Christian inscriptions, as Shaye in a Meroitic text, and as Shaat in ancient Egyptian. According to J. Vercoutter (1958, p. 147), “the Christian period appears to have been a flourishing one for the island since at least up to the eleventh century it was the seat of a and Thabit Hassan was able to record, in 1954, five different churches along its banks.” However, the cathedral has not been identified. After the Christian period, the fortress at Sai became one of the two principal Ottoman garrison points within NUBIA.

Archaeological excavations in the fortress of Sai were carried out by a French mission in 1955-1957, and again, intermittently, since 1967. The finds from the Christian period have not yet been systematically reported in print.

[See also: Nubian Church Organization.]


  • Vercoutter, J. “Excavations at Sai 1955-7.” Kush 6 (1958):144-69.
  • ___. “La XVIIIe dynastie à Sai et Haute-Nubie.” Cahiers de recherche de lInstitut de papyrologie et d’égyptologie de Lille 2 (1973):7-38.